Life had grown so painful for Michelle Walker by early 2022 that she felt like she wanted to just end it.
“I definitely was suicidal,” remembers the 41-year-old Richmond resident. “I felt like I lost everything.”
She had gotten to this place after years of drug addiction, which led her to leave her young son behind, and focus squarely on getting high.
“I stopped coming home,” Walker says. “I would just stay out for months at a time. Eventually, I moved into a tent on the train tracks, because I thought I could get comfortably high there.”
She was wrong. The result turned out to be anything but comfortable, as she spent most of her time trying to score methamphetamines to feed her towering addiction.
Somewhere along the way, Walker stopped showing up for work and eventually lost her job. With no source of income to draw from, Walker says she felt like she “had to do things degrading to myself” in order to get the money for drugs.
Her life had gotten dark – real dark. And it was getting harder and harder to see the point of going on.
At was at that bleak moment that someone threw her a lifeline and introduced her to the Bay Area Rescue Mission, a faith-based nonprofit that has served the Bay Area community since 1965.
The Richmond organization is reportedly the Bay Area’s largest privately funded homeless shelter, offering more than 80,000 nights of shelter, 90,000 hours of counseling and 1.6 million meals per year. It also provides emergency shelter, transitional housing and one-year programs for recovery from drug and alcohol addiction as well as domestic violence.
The goal is to help get lives back on track – which is certainly something Walker knew she needed. Thus, she decided to sign up for the Bay Area Rescue Mission’s Life Transformation Program in early 2022, committing to a year of classes, training and discipleship to help her get off drugs and get prepared for a new life.
“She was in really bad shape when she came in,” says Barbara Wallace, Bay Area Rescue Mission’s director of donor engagement. “She had just given up on life.”
Yet, the program ended up working for Walker, who is now drug and alcohol-free, has a promising career in the construction industry and a place to call home. Perhaps most significantly, she’s been reunited with her son.
“I get to watch him grow and just see what God allowed me to create,” Walker says of being back with Dominic, who is 14 and in eighth grade. “I love it.”
Through the East Bay Times’ annual Share the Spirit campaign, which seeks to raise money for the most vulnerable in our communities, the Bay Area Rescue Mission is hoping to raise $5,000 to help people like Walker and others get a fresh start on life.
The funds would be used to provide 20,000 hot meals for those in need of food during a six-week period. Currently, Bay Area Rescue Mission prepares and serves 600 meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – per day. The meals are served 365 days per year to residents in the nonprofit’s shelters and to unhoused people in the area and those on the verge of being homeless. Everyone is welcome, regardless of faith.
Not having to worry about where her next meal was coming from as well as having a safe place to stay certainly helped Walker focus on getting clean from drugs and taking the next steps to get her life in order.
She’d take full advantage of the number of classes and offerings available through the Bay Area Rescue Mission’s Life Transformation Program, which range from computer training and life management skills to financial literacy education. Participants also work – such as in the onsite beauty shop, kitchen or warehouse – to learn job skills.
“That’s actually vocational training,” says Stephanie Sewell, the Bay Area Rescue Mission’s vice president of development. “When they work in the warehouse, they’re learning how to work a forklift and do the inventory and all that. So, they are doing a job — they are helping us, but at the same time they are learning a skill.”
That training paid off for Walker, who quickly landed a job in the construction field after graduating from the program.
“I got out on April the 7th and I started working on April the 17th,” she says.
Walker also marked her 41st birthday clean and sober – which she says is the first time she’s celebrated a birthday in that fashion since she was a young teen.
“She’s absolutely amazing,” Sewell says. “She’s really turned her life around. She’s great a role model for her son.”
Walker credits much of the remarkable turnaround to the faith-based teachings at Bay Area Rescue Mission.
Mulling the situation over, Walker says she’s not sure that the program would have worked for her without that element. She says she had tried to get sober before at another program and it didn’t work. The difference maker, she says, is clearly God.
“I think this time around, He took the desire and want for alcohol and drugs away,” she says.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). The lifeline is manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Share the Spirit
The Share the Spirit holiday campaign, sponsored by the Bay Area News Group, provides relief, hope and opportunities for East Bay residents by helping raise money for nonprofit programs in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
How to help
Donations will help the Bay Area Rescue Mission provide 20,000 meals for those in need of food during a six-week period. Meals are served 365 days per year to residents in the nonprofit’s shelters and to unhoused people in the area and those on the verge of being homeless. Goal: $5,000
How to give
Visit www.sharethespiriteastbay.org/donate or print and mail in the coupon.